Ever since you decided to become a social worker, you’ve been preparing to deal with difficult cases. You’ve heard horror stories from other experts in the field about domestic abuse victims who don’t want to leave their partners, recidivists who just can’t get their act together, or kids who are bent on spending the rest of their lives as miscreants.
However, half of the challenges you will be facing as a social worker will hardly have anything to do with difficult cases. Here are six situations that could catch you off-guard when starting out in social services. Hopefully, knowing about these realities can help you deal with them better when the time comes.
Doing social work is a noble endeavor, but it doesn’t always feel like that at times, especially when you encounter people who need your help but do everything to reject it. Evading and mistrusting social workers is one thing, and a common one at that, but in more extreme cases, you could encounter abuse, intimidation, or threats from the very people you are trying to help lead a better life.
In cases like these, it’s important to recognize when it’s time to ask for help. Remember that no case is worth your life or your personal stability. The agency you’re working for would undoubtedly have guidelines on how to ask for backup when the need for it arises.
You already know that the profession can be taxing, but you might not realize that a lot of your time in social services could be spent trying to wade through piles of paperwork. Providing direct support to troubled individuals and families might be the core of the job, but the administrative tasks take up a substantial amount of time, too.
For this reason, you will need to up your digital game. There are applications you can have on your laptop and mobile phone that can help ease the burden, even just by tracking your progress on your administrative tasks. Try to digitize and automate as much as you can to optimize the process of dealing with the impossible stack of paperwork that will inevitably end up on your desk every week.
Aside from getting all up to your knees in paperwork, you will have to get used to working around the clock. Unfortunately, even though your agency’s official business hours resemble that of a typical 9-5, client work never ends.
There’s no way around this one, though. It’s all a matter of time management, as it’s still highly important that you allocate some time to tend to your personal, social, and family needs. You might be doing extraordinary work, but you’re still human, after all.
Doing extra hours and working beyond traditional business hours do not always translate to the best results. There are times when your best efforts will not pay off, and one family will end up being unhappy with your work. Despite your best explanation that you did everything you can, some people will not be willing to listen.
A situation like this can break the bank for social workers, especially with the hefty fees connected with legal representation, whether or not you end up disproving your perceived culpability. Now, there are ways to help you deal with lawsuits, but you have to do your research as to which insurance protection you might need in this line of business.
One of the most difficult situations you can find yourself in is having a conflict of interest with a particular case you’re working on. Everyone knows it’s so much more difficult helping your own friends than total strangers, and the same is true for social workers.
It’s likely that your agency will have protocols against assigning you a case with a possible conflict of interest, and all you have to do is respect that. Recognize that there are other social workers who can take the case of someone you know without exposing yourself to the emotional dangers of dealing with a case you cannot disengage yourself from.
This is not about working with patients exhibiting mental health problems that have yet to be clinically diagnosed, although that in itself is a hard situation to find yourself in. This is about the difficulties of the job finally catching up with your emotional and mental state.
All social workers start out optimistic and bright until they realize the ugly realities that hound the social services industry, and society at large. You might think you have enough fortitude to take on as many cases as you can, but there will always be a case that will take a toll on your mental health. It’s okay — the earlier you realize this, the earlier you can recognize when you might be needing professional help.
As a preventive method, consider incorporating daily rituals that contribute to your mental health as well as your physical health. You have to understand that even the people helping others need a little help, so never think it is beneath you to consult with a psychiatrist whenever you feel like the job is personally affecting you.
As a social worker, you always want to leave a lasting difference in the communities you work with. However, you won’t be able to do that if you cannot sustain your passion for what you’re doing. Preparing yourself to deal with these difficult situations might be all the boost you need to crack difficult cases and build a case profile that will fulfill your dream of leaving a substantial impact on society.